On September 14, 2016, the first boat of the Women’s Boat to Gaza flotilla embarked on the first leg of its journey to the besieged Gaza Strip in a bid to break the blockade imposed on the citizens of Gaza by Israel. The Amal, which means ‘hope’, set sail from Barcelona, but soon began experiencing engine problems and was forced to return to port. The second boat Zaytouna, which means ‘Olive’ and symbolizes the gesture of peace, subsequently set sail with both its scheduled crew and participants. The theme of the Flotilla – Women’s Boat to Gaza – is based on the role of women within the Gaza Strip and the greater Palestine, who are forced to run entire households and communities as a result of the death and injury of their menfolk.
Speaking to VOC this week, Ellen Huttu Hansson, an activist and participant who was scheduled to travel on the stranded Amal, explained that given the months of preparation for the trip, a number of activists who were scheduled to be on the stranded vessel decided to meet up with the Zaytouna at each port via air travel, while the rest travel to the final port of Messina.
She confirmed that the organizers are currently in the process of raising funds to purchase a replacement boat in order to continue with their initial plans.
As one of the activists who was scheduled to be on the Amal, Hansson notes that she decided to go to Cecile where she is working, but intends to re-join the crew once a new boat is purchased.
Given the strenuous nature of sea-travel, Hansson confirmed that a number of crew members of the Zaytouna decided to disembark and were replaced by awaiting activists at the port of Ajaccio.
“The atmosphere on the first leg of the journey was good. They did have some rough seas, so many were very ill and it was raining a lot. Now they have recharged in the next port and are excited for the next journey,” she stated.
The flotilla has not been met with any ‘anti-pro-Palestinian’ protests, but there has been social media posts afloat stating that Israeli boat owners and the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) intend to prevent the entry of the flotilla.
As expected, organizers of the flotilla have in anticipation of any violent opposition, such as the violence faced by the passengers of Mavi Marmara in 2010, employed the necessary safety precautions.
Hansson says that both the crew and the participants are scheduled to partake in non-violence training in Messina in a bid to mentally prepare for any form of confrontation on their journey.
“But we stand strongly by the fact that we are non-violent activists; we are peace activists who carry nothing on the boat aside from hope and solidarity,” she added.
The organizers of the flotilla chose participants from around the world, including politicians, members of the media, cultural artists and activists. They include: Nobel Laureate (1976) and peace activist from Northern Ireland, Mairead Maguire; member of New Zealand Parliament and member of the Green Party, Marama Davidson; and professional athlete and coach, whose husband was killed on the Mavi Marmara in 2010, Cigdem Topçuoglu.
The activists’ final port of rest is scheduled to be Messina, after which the flotilla will make the journey to the Gaza Strip.
“We are planning to reach Gaza in early October and we are looking to have two boats with all our planned participants.”
Hansson urges everyone to spread awareness about the situation in all Palestinian territories and particularly that of the Gaza Strip, which she asserts will be uninhabitable by the year 2020.
“We thank everyone for the support that we have received thus far. Without them, we would not have the flotilla,” she continued.
For more information and to assist, visit: https://wbg.freedomflotilla.org/participate
VOC (Thakira Desai)